1. Look after your gut health by including lots of fun fermented foods in your festive feasting
Fermented foods go through a process of lacto-fermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food, creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food and creates beneficial enzymes, vitamins, minerals, biologically active peptides, and various strains of probiotics. The lactic acid bacteria even produce vitamin K2, which is important for bone health.
The natural fermentation of foods preserves nutrients and breaks the food down into a more digestible form. For example, the fermentation process in sourdough degrades the gluten, making it easier for the digestive system to break it down and absorb it.
Festive ferments to include in your feasting: Chestnut blinis, Honey-fermented quincemeat, Kombucha cultured cream, Christmas kraut
2. Stay hydrated
Loading up on water daily has a beneficial effect on the mucosal lining of the intestines. Water can also promote the balance of good bacteria in the gut.
Taking in an adequate amount of fluid can also help to regulate your bowel movements, prevent constipation, and break down foods in combination with stomach acids and enzymes. Your body will pull any available fluids to help food move through your system, and if there is not enough available, the result can be constipation or bloating with slow digestion.
Herb infused water and tisanes are brilliant ways to help hydration. A good tip is to drink a pint of water and/or hot water with a slice of lemon upon waking and then drinking herbal teas or herb infused water between meals.
Recipes for fun Christmassy alcohol alternatives: Apple toddy, Water kefir with winter flavours, Kombucha with winter flavours
3. Eat plenty of fibre to feed the good bacteria in your gut
The dietary fibre that feeds the good bacteria in your gut is known as ‘prebiotics’. These fibrer-rich foods allow your gut bacteria to produce nutrients for your colon cells, which leads to a healthier digestive system and a better uptake of the nutrients in the foods you eat, thus leading to higher energy levels.
Here are 10 brilliant prebiotic foods to try to include in your diet:
1. Jerusalem artichokes – delicious simply roasted with a little oil or ghee, herbs and garlic.
2. Garlic – slowly roast whole cloves and whip the roasted garlic into dips such as houmous or swirl through natural yogurt with herbs and oil olive.
3. Onions – the perfect base for any dish or quick pickle by soaking thin slices in apple cider vinegar or kombucha with a dot of honey and your favourite spices (coriander seeds, mustard seeds, cinnamon sticks and allspice berries).
4. Leeks – cut into bite-sized pieces and slowly roast in a little oil or ghee with herbs until meltingly tender (45 minutes to 1 hour in a 180C/Gas 4 oven). A delicious side to any meal.
5. Buckwheat – try our Chestnut blini recipe which features buckwheat flour as well as chestnut flour (you can also just swap out the chestnut flour and just use 100% buckwheat flour). It’s a brilliant gluten-free and protein-rich flour for any Christmas bakes.
6. Oats – perfect soaked in a little juice or in kefir overnight and topped with the Honey-fermented quincemeat for a healthy but fun breakfast, or add to crumble toppings or use to crumb fish.
7. Apples – delicious grated into overnight oats (above) or core, cut a thin ‘belt’ around the girth 1cm deep, fill the core with a mixture of dried fruit, nuts and a little orange zest and juice and bake 30-45 minutes in a 180C/Gas 4 oven until fully tender. Lovely with River Cottage chai kefir and a dusting of toasted oats mixed with cinnamon and honey.
8. Seaweed – the more obvious option is to add dried seaweed to soups and broths but you can also rehydrate dried seaweed and add to roast vegetables for a delicious salty contrast, or buy dried seaweed flakes to dust over the top. Roasted parsnips and seaweed are a match made in heaven!
9. Sunflower seeds – use in place of nuts in recipes of add to morning soaked oats, or an apple crumble, for extra crunch.
10. Chicory – the perfect winter salad leaf. Chicory leaves also make a brilliant ‘boat’ for canapes: spoon a little labneh, a smoked houmous or mushroom pate in the centre and garnish with fresh thyme and a little citrus zest.
4.Try to have 3-4 hour gaps between eating (i.e. better to have a starter to start a meal vs a snack in between meals)
The microbes in our gut have a 24-hour circadian rhythm like us and need a rest, according to Professor Tim Spector, expert on the microbiome.
‘A regular meal pattern including breakfast consumption, consuming a higher proportion of energy early in the day, reduced meal frequency (i.e., 2–3 meals/day), and regular fasting periods may provide physiological benefits such as reduced inflammation, improved circadian rhythmicity, increased autophagy and stress resistance, and modulation of the gut microbiota.’
A great way to stay full between meals is to drink lots of water or herbal teas. Add a little spice to your water drinking to make it more enticing and delicious. Great winter water ideas include:
• Rosemary with star anise and clementine slices
• Apple slices with thyme and cinnamon
• Lemon slices with ginger and crushed cardamom
Want to learn more from Rachel? Why not come along to one of her courses at River Cottage HQ: